By Kerry Porth
Sometimes I had new clients who would call a few times before they would actually book a date. This was common with newbies and clients who had had bad experiences in the past – usually they had been rejected at the door for reasons of race or physical appearance or they had been robbed. Often, these calls would make me nervous too as I was worried that they were trying to get a sense of my safety precautions in order to rob or do harm to me. But sometimes, I was completely surprised when I ultimately learned the real reason why they were taking their time to check me out before booking a visit.
One occasion really sticks out in my mind, and, more than 10 years later, my experience with this client continues to have a profound impact on me.
He was a young man I’ll call James. The first time he called, he told me right away that he just wanted to chat about my services and that he wouldn’t be booking me right away. These types of calls often annoyed me as they would ask increasingly more detailed questions about what services I offered as their breathing became faster and louder – in short, they were utter time-wasters!
But James didn’t sound like that. I could tell immediately that he was very nervous as his voice was shaking and he wanted to know whether I had worked with clients who were physically disfigured before. To be honest, this was the first time I had been asked this question and I gently asked what the nature of his disfigurement was. He explained that he had severe scars from burns and skin grafts that covered 40% of his body. The physical appearance of my clients had never presented a problem for me before so I told him that what actually matters to me is how my clients treat me and that they are happy with my services. James told me he would call me back the following week once his payday came and would book an appointment then.
He called back three weeks later and provided more context about his fears. He had been rejected by a sex worker and girls he was dating in the past even when he explained about his scars. I’ll be honest and say that the fact that he’d been previously rejected by a sex worker did cause me a bit of concern as I thought that his disfigurement must be fairly extreme. But, by this time, we had spent about 30 minutes talking during our two calls and he sounded very sweet. I didn’t want to hurt his feelings and encouraged him to come and see me and promised that no matter what, I wouldn’t reject him. James still wasn’t ready to book me but called 3 days later and set up a date for that evening.
James arrived at my apartment and I was pleasantly surprised to open the door to a nice looking young man of 26. He wore a crisp dress shirt and chinos and the only mark I could see on him was what I recognized as a skin graft on his neck that disappeared under the collar of his shirt. I offered him a drink and he asked for water and we sat on my couch to chat. I asked him what he did for a living and we made small-talk about his job. I could see that he was very nervous still. When he made eye contact, he immediately looked away and blushed which I found completely adorable. Eventually I suggested we go to the bedroom.
Once there, I moved close to him and started to unbutton his shirt at which point he suddenly stiffened and asked if we could turn the lights out. I explained that I could dim them quite low but that I was not comfortable with full darkness for my own safety. I again assured him that he should relax and try not to worry about his body, that I would take things slow and that he could stop me at any time. Eventually, I took his shirt off.
Starting at his neck, the burn scars and skin grafts covered his shoulder and upper arm to his elbow, most of one side of his chest and all the way down across one thigh and buttock. He stared at the floor while I undressed him and started to shake. The whole time I softly told him to relax, that it would be okay.
Eventually, we were sitting naked on the bed and I could see that there were tears in his eyes. My heart ached for him. I held his hands in mine and asked him to tell me how he had been burned. He quietly told me that when he was 14 years old, his family home caught fire. He and his parents made it out but once on the front lawn, he realized that his 7 year old sister wasn’t with them and his parents were too overcome by smoke inhalation to go back in the house. He ran back in to save his sister by lowering her out her window to their father. Her bedroom curtains caught fire and wrapped around him as he struggled to get out the window. By this time, there were tears in my eyes.
I had no idea what those scars would feel like under my hands and against my body but I was determined to touch this young man and was surprised to find that the skin grafts and scars were velvety soft and slightly rippled.
There was nothing disgusting or revolting about them at all. He was an inexperienced lover and it was over in a very short time but I broke my own rules about not kissing my clients on the mouth because I found the experience so sweet.
He continued to see me every few weeks for about 18 months. During that time he told me about dating situations where young women had reacted in terrible ways to the sight of his scars, even though he had told them why he had them. I wanted to find those girls and slap them. I encouraged him to keep trying – that one day he would find the right woman.
And then one day he did. He showed up at my door and explained that, while he would still pay me, he simply wanted to come see me one last time to say goodbye and to say thank you for, as he put it, giving him his confidence back. For convincing him that he wasn’t disgusting or disfigured. While I was sorry that I wouldn’t be seeing him any more – I had grown quite fond of him, you see – I was happy that he had found a woman who loved him for the hero he was, scars and all.
About the Author
Kerry Porth was born in Vancouver and completed an undergraduate degree at SFU in 1986. After years working in university administration, Kerry worked in the sex trade for four years leaving her with a lasting passion for improving the human rights of sex workers. After exiting the sex trade in 2004 and embarking on recovery from substance dependence, Kerry was the Executive Director for PACE (Providing Alternatives, Counselling & Education) Society in Vancouver’s down town east side from 2006 to 2012. A passionate human rights activist, Kerry is a well-respected educator who regularly lectures at colleges and universities about the sex trade. Currently, Kerry currently works as a community developer with Living in Community, a project that addresses issues related to sex work in Vancouver and is lead researcher on an SFU project on sex work governance. She is also the chair of the board for Pivot Legal Society.